Handling is one of the most important things to develop in order to enhance your cycling performance. But are there any tricks to accelerating this development?
Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned cyclist, there are always improvements to be made in your ability. Handling is perhaps one of the best routes to such improvement.
In a race, for example, being able to traverse the terrain as quickly as possible, corner perfectly, and take an efficient position on the road will go a long way toward getting your time down.
But what are some good ways to improve your bike handling skills? And are there any changes to your setup that might help here?
Don’t worry! We’ll give you some simple hacks to boost your handling ability. To get you up to speed, we’ll be covering:
- #1. Think Ahead
- #2. Mix Up Your Routes
- #3. Try Your Hand At Other Disciplines
- #4. Watch Other Riders
- #5. Make Sure You’ve Got The Right Setup
- #6. Practice, Practice, Practice
Let’s get started!
#1. Think Ahead
This is perhaps one of the most important factors in your handling. Regardless of your discipline, thinking ahead and choosing the right line is imperative to smooth handling.
Cornering, for example, is a skill that has to be developed whether you’re a roadie, gravel grinder, or mountain biker. Coming into and out of corners efficiently will shave valuable seconds off your time and improve your safety on the bikes.
The trick to cornering well, like a lot of handling, is thinking ahead.
If you can, try and see the other side of the corner. Oftentimes this is impossible, but if there is a clear view to the other side, then you can see how sharp the corner is.
Knowing this information is extremely advantageous, providing excellent intel to inform how much you need to brake before reaching the bend.
Another other thing to think about when cornering is whether to take the inside or outside route. If you’re on a road bike, always take the route furthest from oncoming traffic (assuming the roads are open).
If you’re on a mountain or gravel bike and you’re cycling off-road, then you should largely base the decision on the trail condition on either side.
With all other things being equal, generally, the inside route is shorter but will require more dramatic braking to get around.
One of the most important considerations when it comes to cornering, however, is how long you need to brake. The sharpness of the corner will determine when you need to start, but always start braking long before the corner itself.
When you reach the apex of the corner, stop braking, and begin pedaling to accelerate out of the corner.
Even on long straights, you must think ahead and take the best possible line to minimize the amount you need to decelerate.
This is especially true if you’re riding off-road. Generally, taking the least bumpy route will provide the easiest possible line to traverse.
#2. Mix Up Your Routes
As cyclists, we’re all guilty of settling into a routine. It’s all too easy to stick to your familiar loops and routes from your house since it requires less planning and zero navigation, and you know the route.
However, this can stunt your handling development since, after riding the same route a few times, you already know exactly where to position yourself on the road to traverse the route most efficiently, relinquishing the need to think ahead and examine the path in front of you.
Taking yourself out of autopilot on new routes has a number of benefits for your handling.
Firstly, it exposes you to new terrain. Particularly for off-road disciplines, every different trail or piece of singletrack is different, and trying new terrain will stop you from getting caught off-guard by unforeseen tricky terrain on future rides.
Even on the tarmac, every road is different, and trying to descend a seriously eroded section of asphalt is not easy, but regardless a useful skill to develop for future rides.
Secondly, it necessitates thinking ahead and examining the route in front of you. If you already know how sharp a corner is, you don’t need to think about how much to brake and when to accelerate, but these are essential skills for any cyclist.
Additionally, if you already know the route, then you’ll know exactly where to position yourself on the road to ensure that you are taking the most efficient line. However, again, this is an important skill to develop.
If you’re stuck with how to plan new routes, then Strava has an excellent feature where you can input route parameters, and it will generate a route for you. If you want to plan a route yourself, the cycling-favorite Komoot is fantastic.
#3. try Your Hand At Other Disciplines
This one particularly applies to the purist roadies.
If you are a road cyclist living in an area with well-maintained roads, you’re unlikely to be challenging your handling abilities. Of all terrains, smooth asphalt requires the least handling skills to traverse.
However, trying your hand at gravel biking, for example, can do wonders for your handling ability. In a familiar position with drop bars, you now have a bike that has far greater capabilities on a variety of different terrains.
It’s a steep learning curve, and there’s a chance you’ll have a couple of minor falls, but nothing improves your handling skills like being exposed to a rocky, steep descent off-road. You’ll likely start out a little tentative, but you’ll quickly gain confidence as you improve.
Even if you’re an avid mountain biker, giving gravel biking a go can still improve your handling.
Largely seen as a benefit, modern full-suspension mountain bikes make it as easy as possible to traverse tricky terrain. Although this is, of course, a good thing for your enjoyment and safety off-road, it does somewhat prevent you from reaching your handling potential.
Gravel bikes can handle terrain almost as extreme as a mountain bike can, but it generally does take a little more skill to ride the toughest of terrains when you’re in an aggressive position and without suspension.
#4. Watch Other Riders
As with any skill, much can be learned by watching others exhibit excellent handling. Up to a point, this can give you some reliable information about how to efficiently handle the bike.
Of course, a great place to start here is with friends or family or riding buddies who are more experienced than you. Riding on someone else’s wheel forces you to handle your bike in a similar manner, taking the same lines and braking effectively.
Importantly, however, when learning from someone you’re riding with, it’s important to consider exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing. Don’t just keep your eyes fixated on their back wheel, make sure to examine the route in front of you and around you.
Another good way to do this is to watch professionals. If you’re trying to improve your handling on the road, for example, then who better to learn from than Tour de France champs such as Tadej Pogačar?
It’s important to realize, however, that these are professionals and are experts in handling, and may sometimes pull off maneuvers that would be considered risky for an amateur, so it’s a good idea to take their example with a pinch of salt.
Additionally, this is in a race scenario. Regardless of the discipline you’re spectating, riders are far more likely to risk their safety in the high-stakes situation of a televised race.
#5. Make sure you’ve got the right setup
Your setup is one of the factors with greatest influence over your ability to smoothly handle the machine. There are a couple of different (changeable) things to consider here.
The length of your stem has a huge influence over how responsive your bike’s handling is, particularly for drop-bar machines like road, gravel, or cyclocross bikes.
Generally, a shorter stem gives an extremely responsive handling performance. If you’re riding on overly tricky terrain on your gravel bike then this would be an advantage. Being able to quickly redirect your momentum in a pinch is essential in such a scenario.
A longer stem provides smoother, less twitchy handling, and increases the radius of your turning arc. In plain English, what this means is that you need to shift your weight and move the handlebars more dramatically when making a turn.
A longer stem is best suited to road riders on undulating, smooth asphalt roads. With a slightly longer length, you may feel more in control of the bike, and more confident on descents, and therefore go faster.
This one is largely limited to mountain bike and gravel bike riders. Road bikes pretty much exclusively come with 700c (or 29″ to a mountain biker) wheels.
However, if you’re riding off-road, a smaller, 650b (27.5″ for MTBs) wheel will be lighter, which has a great effect on your handling.
A lighter wheel enables faster acceleration and deceleration, and more responsive handling.
This makes smaller wheels better suited to a technical, somewhat uneven terrain. But there are also some drawbacks to smaller wheels, along with other benefits to weigh into your decision.
- Want to know more? Check out our article 650b Vs 700c Wheels: Which Should I Choose?
#6. Practice, Practice, practice
Although these things will definitely accelerate the improvement of your handling skills, they won’t work in isolation. You still need to put in the hours in the saddle!
But as this article has said, it’s not quite so simple. To really improve your handling, your practice should be specific, and practicing the points in this article is a great place to start!